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Loaded language

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Not to be confused with Loaded question.

Loaded language or prejudicial language is language intended to produce an emotional response in the mind of the audience, in order to directly affect their views on a topic.

The use of loaded language confers certain qualities to a statement that often amount to an emotional appeal. "Liberal", for instance, may be (and often is) used among Conservatives in the United States as an insult. Independent Baptists don't even know how loaded they are with the terms, implying that the person so-labeled disregards normal moral standards. The true meaning of such a term often becomes obscured due to the prevalence of the coded meaning.

When the meaning is intentionally obfuscated in order to disparage a particular minority or belief without raising an alarm among those who would be offended by the meaning, it is sometimes called dog whistle politics, after the idea (often not actually true) that the out-group can't hear the meaning in the hidden message behind the words. Whether or not the out-group gets it, the in-group knows exactly what is meant by the code. For example, in certain settings in US politics, claiming to be "tough on crime" might be intended to subtly convey or take advantage of racism. Code words and dog whistle politics often use loaded language to convey their meaning to the in-group.

In politics[edit]

  • The "First home buyer's scheme" in Australia might equally well have been called "The house price support scheme" — reflecting the effect of giving free money to home buyers with which to buy homes, which is simply that house prices uptick by precisely that amount.
  • The abortion debate invariably evokes emotionally charged language and questionable analogies. Opponents of abortion describe it as "child murder" or "infanticide", and describe themselves as "pro-life", implying a false dichotomy in which those who do not agree with them are seen as being opposed to life itself. Similarly, the pro-choice side couches its language in terms of freedom in general, a strong element in the American mythos, deflecting as much attention from the specific freedom of abortion as possible, sometimes referring to opponents as "forced birthers".
  • "Class warfare" is another one. While one might imagine it as a double-sided affair, the reality is much different-meaning; it invokes negative images of filthy, lazy laborers attacking hardworking rich folks. In recent years, especially with the advent of OWS, it's now a cop-out against criticism and tax hikes for the rich. Many conservative pundits use the term to explain the war against the "job creators", not realizing they are invoking arguments penned by Karl Marx every time they do.
  • "States' rights" is a loaded term, because it has been used politically to raise race as a wedge issue. While it's occasionally mentioned by libertarians for other reasons, it's still heavily associated with racism elsewhere because the term was originally used to defend slavery and later to defend Jim Crow. The irony is that it was also used to undermine the Fugitive Slave Law.
  • "Affirmative action" is also a loaded term, and is frequently used to disparage the achievements of non-whites, e.g. Barack Obama being referred to as an Affirmative Action President.
  • Everyone's favorite is "family values", which immediately invokes the feelings of warmth, security, honesty, and support that a family brings, even though the term really means a few vicious pet social issues — hatred of gays, being anti-abortion, and restricting roles for women. (See also "traditional values".)
  • "Job creator" is yet another one, and it has begun to see common usage after the Great Recession. It tells people that companies give them employment, often out of the goodness of their hearts. The term is often euphemistically used by Republican politicians in order to fight corporate taxation (mainly because outright praising corporations isn't good PR).
  • "Separatist" and "self-determination" evoke negative and positive responses respectively to an independence movement. One suggests "separation", which is linked with relationship difficulties in many people's minds; the other suggests responsibility and fairness. The Chinese government goes one further and uses the term "splittist" for Tibetan nationalists.
  • Insurgent, freedom fighter, and terrorist can all be applied to the same group, depending on the speaker's perspective.
  • "Indoctrination" or "brainwashing" in reference to perceived liberal bias in public education and higher education institutions. These words have been used by right-wing groups like Eagle Forum, Campus Reform, David Horowitz Freedom Center, etc.
  • "Makers and takers": Coined by U.S. Representative and Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan during the 2012 election; "takers" describing people who "get more benefits from the federal government than they pay back in taxes."[1] In 2014, Ryan repudiated his choice of words while nonetheless standing by his overall message.[2] Conservatives have often described welfare recipients as thieves or such synonyms. For instance, conservative commentator Charles Sykes has written a book titled A Nation of Moochers: America's Addiction to Getting Something for Nothing. Also, common derogatory terms used to describe poor people, especially recent immigrants, include parasite, leecher, invader, etc.
  • "Urban": Republicans have been really bad at attracting African Americans and speaking on race, so they now have the new strategy of referring to black voters as "urban" voters and then saying the same racist spiel. This gets to hilarious extremes where even Conan O'Brien called Paul Ryan out for being way too obvious about whom he was talking about.[3]
  • "Health freedom": In the anti-vaccine arguments, those against vaccines evoke freedom by the right to choose or at least not be forced by government to vaccinate their children due to unfounded fears of thimerosal, unfounded links to autism, and rare complications from vaccines.
  • "Biological male" *: Often, TERFs and other transphobes will use the term when referring to trans women, especially on bathroom issues, saying that "biological men" want to use the same bathroom as little girls.


  • The "estate tax", which is only levied on very large bequests, was spun and renamed as the "death tax", because the listener would assume it was a tax on anyone who died (well, on their survivors), without realizing it only applies to a very small number of filthy rich people.
  • The phrase "No Child Left Behind" emphasizes the innocence of children, and the feeling of isolation at being left behind, rather than the same program which could have been called "Helping students pass standardized tests succeed in school", the "charter school support act", or simply the "public education reduction act" — reflecting the main effect of the legislation, which is to penalize and ultimately close schools in poor districts (ironically leaving poor children behind), owing to the infamous practice in the USA of financing schools via local property taxes.
  • The "Defense of Marriage Act" intentionally invokes the image that marriage is being attacked, rather than a more straightforward name like "The Marriage for Heterosexual Couples Only For Federal and Interstate Purposes[note 1] Act".
  • The "USA PATRIOT Act" is a (brutally forced) acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, but due to the title, it implies that those opposed to the Act are inherently unpatriotic.
    • The above case is so galling that President Bush himself wrote in his memoir Decision Points that he regretted the act's name.


Nobody is sure exactly what it is, but whatever it is, it sounds bad and needs to be banned.

  • "Partial-birth abortion" — Politicians seem to know more about what this term means than the doctors that perform it.
  • "Assault weapon" — Scary-looking guns, which may or may not be related to the actual weapons known as assault rifles.

Snarl words[edit]

A snarl word is a derogatory label that can be attached to something (or even to people), in order to dismiss their importance or worth, without guilt. When used as snarl words, these words are essentially meaningless; most of them can be used with meaning, but that seldom happens.

While not actually using the phrase, liberal comedian/pundit/former U.S. Senator Al Franken went into great detail about the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy's use of snarl words and other forms of emotional appeal in his first political work, Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot, specifically referencing the political activities of Newt Gingrich, Frank Luntz, and Lee Atwater and noting conservative pressure groups' reliance on such tactics to ram through the 1994 Contract With America program.

Words frequently perceived and/or used as snarl words include:

Glittering generalities[edit]

A glittering generality, sometimes called a "virtue word" or "purr word", is the opposite of a snarl word. Florida loves these terms, and God-forbid that you throw the snarl "Florida Cheerful" at them. It's a vague term meant to invoke warm fuzzy feelings, as in some of the examples given above. (Who could be against the children?) Some common glittering generalities:

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. The act itself did not prohibit individual states from legalizing same-sex marriage, to be fair. That, and making recognition of same-sex marriage from other states optional.
  2. No relation to Millennialism
  3. See also: Godwin's Law
  4. Yes, "snarl word" is itself used as a snarl word. Never underestimate a public speaker's capacity for linguistic gymnastics.